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Cyclists get their hands dirty

Women's centre presents bike maintenance workshops for female riders

The truth is I've been abusing my bike.

That's the inescapable conclusion that dawned on me midway through a workshop on bike maintenance hosted by the North Shore Women's Centre, which I took two years after buying my shiny new bike that now was just clunking and clanking along.

Pedalling a bike I understand, steering and braking are easy, but how to make sure all those things still work (as well as the source of some strange noises) was a mystery. Turned out I wasn't the only one.

"Every cyclist neglects their bike. I don't know of a single well-maintained bike, except one that isn't ridden maybe," said bike mechanic Autumn Hagemann, one of the facilitators of the workshop.

She and cyclist Alina Gherghinoiu weren't about to let any of the dozen or so women at the workshop leave without getting their hands a little dirty. She dug out her tools to show people how to change a tire on the side of the road, adjust their brakes or fix their gears when the chain won't switch properly.

Most importantly, Hagemann said almost no cyclists lubricate their chain or pump up their tires often enough - if you're cycling daily, that should be once per week.

With a cloth, she wiped the outside of the chain, then dripped the lubricant to the inside and wiped the outside a second time, spinning the wheel backwards to wipe off the excess. While the lubricant is needed on the inside of the chain, on the outside it just attracts dirt and grime, as does using a product that's not specifically made for bikes. In five minutes it was all done.

"That, for the vast majority of people, will probably make your bike feel really good," she said.

The equipment is also important: a bike pump should show the tire pressure, and often the cheaper, plastic style requires a lot of strength to use, for instance.

The workshop focused on helping women feel comfortable with their bikes, whether they were for commuting, fun or, in the case of one participant, taking her bike on touring trips around B.C.

Less than 40 per cent of Vancouver cyclists are women right now, according to a world cycling survey by Deakin University in Australia, but in places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen that figure is pushing 60 per cent.

Hagemann said a lot of the reasons people have for keeping their bikes in the garage aren't as big a deal as they think.

"There's no better city than Vancouver to bike in," she said. "People think it's a lot more difficult than it actually is."

The women's centre offers monthly courses on a range of topics, and if the interest is there they plan to bring back the bike workshop next spring. Their website is www.northshorewomen.ca, and anyone interested in the workshop is asked to send in an email.

Another option is Women on Wheels, a workshop offered in Vancouver at a variety of locations. It's held the first and third Wednesday of the month from 6: 30 to 9: 30 p.m. Participants have access to tools and expertise and can learn more about bike maintenance. For locations and registration, call 6048792453.

An additional resource is Our Community Bikes, a shop on Main Street in Vancouver that rents space and tools and offers know-how to help people fix their own bikes. While nothing exactly like that exists on the North Shore, there are plenty of bike shops staffed by experts, and Hagemann suggests asking lots of questions when you're in to buy something new.

After the workshop and a few minutes of tinkering back in the garage, my bike is back and road-ready - and hopefully feeling just a little more loved.

tholloway@nsnews.com